Our definition of community development is tremendously wide. It includes social and economic well-being, the sustainability of our communities in their current geographic and economic configuration, and everything that impacts the durability and adaptability of our housing stock.
That's a lot to comprehend. Some days we wish community development was less of an art and more of a science, with defined inputs leading to predictable outcomes.
We wish the subjects were less interwoven and that our feeble graphic attempt at Venn diagram above, showing overlapping sub-sets of the community development idea, could be less complicated.
At the very least, we wish we didn't have to second-guess our own diagram every five seconds, because we see a different way that the threads of community improvement are interrelated when we pick up a different real-life example.
But we decided that making you criticize and wonder is part of the charm of this particular diagram.
In truth, thinking through what will make your geographic place a better one often makes even the most seasoned professionals look at one another and say, "I don't know."
In the U.S. a federal program has influenced the definition of community development too much. Since 1964, the term community development has become almost synonymous with the Community Development Block Grant.
Since that program requires that the benefits accrue to people of low and moderate income, an undeserved stigma has been attached to the phrase community development.
It's often a good program and one I've managed, but community improvement is necessary and gratifying across the entire economic spectrum.
And international community development has yet another meaning, focused on eradication of extreme poverty and then having the infrastructure and organizing a society that can communicate, sell, and buy globally.
In the world-wide context, the definition of community development tends to be entangled with trying to imitate Western-style development.
However, retracing the mistakes of the "developed" world isn't necessarily the best way to move forward. World-wide, let's avoid the mistakes that now threaten environmental sustainability, economic stability, and development of a middle class because of a concentration of wealth.
We propose that the definition of community development in a developed country includes anything that:
• Increases the appeal of a neighborhood to housing buyers or renters
• Rapidly recycles obsolete housing or commercial buildings by renovating to meet current trends, redevelopment into a new use, or even a suburban retrofit
• Allows community residents to make a better living, over a longer period of time, with ample choices available for career-changers and part-time workers
• Uses land wisely, as the scarce and valuable resource that it is
• Provides the everyday goods and services that people need within a short distance of all residences, and allows shopping for less routine purchases within a reasonable distance
• Cultivates a safe environment
• Makes the community accessible to all, whether they can participate in the dominant transportation mode in their society or not
• Gives young and old alike ample opportunity for recreation, physical exercise, and exposure to nature
• Works with nature to locate key human activities away from environmentally sensitive land, and flood, fire, volcano, seismic, and extreme weather hazards
• Increases the capacity of the community to discuss problems and issues openly and resolve them within a reasonable period of time in a democratic fashion
• Enhances the visual and sensory appeal of the community (which should be limitless)
• Expresses the fact that we value people more than cars or other symbols of our power and control
• Pushes us in the direction of an efficient, high quality, transparent government that arranges for the necessary public services and keeps our infrastructure updated
• Avoids senseless use of finite natural resources and pollution of our land, water, and air
• Organizes a metropolitan or micropolitan area for quick diagnosis of challenges to its competitive edge and fast response to threats from the environment
It's a challenging agenda. So you can see that it takes people of all income levels, including low, moderate, and lavish.
A visitor to the site asked about the purpose of community development, and our best try at answering the why question is on the page in the link.
If our recent economic problems teach us anything, it should be that no one is immune to the laws of cause and effect. Let's get busy trying to understand community development principles, as explained in an illustrated essay based on three in-depth example communities.
Then we can reclaim the complexity and richness of the phrase.
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